British East India Company
8 April 2014
British East India Company
The East India Company began as a commercial enterprise established for the British to pursue trade with the East Indies, specifically the Indian subcontinent. Queen Elizabeth of England had issued a royal charter for this company which led to the substantial power that East India Company gained in India. The company
James Lancaster’s voyage to the East Indies led to the founding of the East India Company (Halliday 106). The attraction to the Indies began in the fifteenth century during the spice trade. The first English expedition for pursuing trade in the Indies was unsuccessful due to Portuguese and Dutch control over the spice trade. James Lancaster was one of the few to return from the voyage. The expedition was unprofitable and those who returned lacked ships (Sears 44). The British and Dutch had more access to the spice trade after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Earlier, “the Spanish and Portuguese had a monopoly of the East Indies spice trade” (Landow, “The British East India Company”). The Dutch were aggressive, driving out English traders interested in the spice market. English influence on the spice trade in the East Indies was limited to one port on the southern coast of Sumatra (Spielvogel 421).
Queen Elizabeth signed the charter of the East India Company on December 31st, 1600. Although the charter was “merely royal assent to a mercantile enterprise,” it was soon to lead to British dominance in India. The London merchants who formed the company intended to draw in the wealth of the Indies through trade, not conquest (Sears 44). 125 merchants invested around 72,000 pounds for the formation of the East India Company, a company that involved stock divided into a number of shares (Sears 52).
The East India Company’s first couple voyages were set out to Sumatra, an island part of the Spice Islands which many Europeans considered to be profitable during the spice trade. Trading stations were settled there. However, there was a demand for cotton cloth from India. The company’s third voyage was set out to the west coast of India so that they could obtain some of the cloth. The voyagers settled in the town of Surat mainly because it was not under the control of the Portuguese. The first English ship to arrive there reached the port on August 24th, 1608 (Sears 44). “India became the focal point of the company’s trade” near the end of the seventeenth century. Due to its worldwide demand, woven cotton cloth from India was being imported in large quantities to Britain. Settlements in places such as Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta became big commercial towns controlled by the East India Company. Indian artisans and merchants would move into these towns to do business and trade. India provided the foreign traders with cloth, silk, raw sugar, and dye (Marshall, “The British Presence in India”).
India was left...